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Culture

A PECULIAR REREADING OF THE 1848 MANIFESTO

Translated Tuesday 22 January 2019

According to Slavoj Zizek, capitalism "mercilessly destroys the authentic aura of nobility, the sacred, and honour".
A PECULIAR REREADING OF THE 1848 MANIFESTO
Monday, January 21, 2019
Maurice Ulrich
L’Actualité du Manifeste du Parti communiste (Actuality of the Communist Party Manifesto) Slavoj Zizek Fayard, 100 pages, 12 euros
The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek refers to the relevance of Marx and Engels’ famous text in terms that require at least some caution.

It seems difficult from the outset to be cautious when a renowned philosopher, in this case Slavoj Zizek, claiming to be communists, Marxist and psychoanalyst on the Lacan side, publishes a short book soberly entitled l’Actualité du Manifeste du Parti communiste, namely the text published in 1848 by Marx and Engels. From the outset, therefore, the author asks: is this text still relevant today? And he answers himself: "In principle, yes, because he describes wonderfully the crazy dance of the capitalist dynamic that has only just reached its peak a century and a half later, but..." But... because today’s working class no longer corresponds to what it was in Marx’s time. This is obviously partly true and even if in a country like France there are still six million workers, it is true that we can no longer deduce mechanically that it is the revolutionary class in the 19th century. But what is the working class? What about, for example, a Silicon Valley engineer? This is not Zizek’s point because, for him, "people in need are no longer workers or workers". We move lightly on the notion of exploitation to jump to the fact of being "in need".

A counter-reading of what Marx and Engels thought
Even more questioning is the reference to "the brutal imposition of a unified global market that threatens all local ethnic traditions, including the form of the nation-state". The rapprochement thus induced between ethnic tradition and the nation-state is not without its problems, but the author sees there, what is well written in the Manifesto, the fact that the bourgeoisie cannot exist without revolutionizing the instruments and relations of production as well as all social relations. Certainly, except that the reading he then makes of it seems to us to go against the direction of what Marx and Engels thought. They also note that the bourgeoisie has destroyed "feudal, patriarchal and idyllic relations". What Zizek gets out of it is that capitalism "mercilessly destroys the authentic aura of nobility, the sacred or honour". But for Marx and Engels, it is a dialectical moment whose overcoming (the negation of negation) leads to a completely different rebuilding of human relations when "religious and political illusions" have thus been destroyed. The same applies to structures and production relations. It is their destruction by the rise of capitalism that creates for them the conditions for surpassing it. There is no nostalgia there, but the idea of the movement that abolishes an existing state of affairs.

The questions redouble when the author comes to write that, in the absence of a working class that is now "unavailable or absent", Western Marxism has come to solicit subordinate classes: "Third World peasants, students, intellectuals, excluded and marginalized. "And, according to him, the latest version of this idea would concern refugees: "Only the influx of a large number of refugees can revitalise the radical European left. "This line of thought is deeply obscenely cynical. It would be a project consisting in "closing the hole of the missing proletarians by importing them from abroad". We wonder where the cynicism is. This is not the place for a more in-depth analysis of Zizek’s singular rereading of the Manifesto, but what is clear is that it cannot be received without much caution.

Maurice Ulrich


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